From Musician to Healthcare Provider:
Spread The Word To Help Musicians Prevent Injuries
If you know anybody that is a musician that has injuries or wants to prevent injuries, please spread the word.
My goal is to have as many musicians prevent injuries in the first place, and if they have one, have someplace to go where it’s a safe place to talk about it and get some information that might help them.
Today I wanted to talk about my journey from musician to health care provider because they’re like opposite extremes.
So I started out in fifth grade, and we were all asked what instrument we want to play. Back in the day, we were never offered strings, so I was between the flute and the clarinet.
I chose the flute. My dad was very thankful about that, because he didn’t want a squawking duck in the house.
I chose the flute and I knew from the moment I picked up that instrument that that was what I was going to do with the rest of my life. It was love at first sight. I was like, “Oh my god, this is exactly what I’m going to do.”
So from fifth grade on, that’s all I cared about. I was going to play my flute, that’s it. I didn’t care about geometry or science or chemistry. When I got to high school, I was like, “what do I need this for? I’m going to be a musician.”
I went on and got my Bachelor of Fine Arts, and flute performance. I studied with some really great people, and it was the best time. It was so much fun. Then I graduated and I did some freelance work.
I was teaching for a couple of years. Then I decided that I wanted to do studio work. So I was going to go out to California because that was the place to go. I think it still is, actually.
I love soundtracks for animation and music, and how they combine those. I was just amazing. So that was my goal – to go out and do studio work.
I never wanted to be an orchestral player. Chamber music and studio work was kind of where my loves were. So I bumped up my playing quite a bit.
I was playing about six to eight hours a day. At the same time, I was helping a friend computerize their office. I was working a lot of hours doing that, because I was trying to save as much money as I possibly could.
Sometimes you have to do multiple things as a musician when you’re first starting out. So I was working at a desk that was completely ergonomically incorrect and horrible, and I was practicing six to eight hours a day. I had the perfect storm.
Nobody had ever talked to me about ergonomics, or body mechanics, or anything like that. It wasn’t a thing back when I was a student, and music teachers who are professional musicians – that’s not their area of expertise.
That’s not what they go to school for. They don’t learn about anatomy and physiology and body mechanics and all that. I never learned about that when I got my music degree.
So it’s not something you have an awareness of as a musician, but super important to have awareness of.
That’s why I’m hoping to reach as many people as possible, because the more awareness you have of what your body’s doing with your instrument, the more you will be able to prevent things.
Long story short, I ended up with injuries. I had a lot of issues in my shoulder. I had numbness and tingling down into my hand. I had a really bad wrist pain, and an issue with my little finger to the point where I couldn’t move my little finger.
My finger would lock on my E flat key, for all of you flute players out there. And that’s really important. If you can’t move your finger off of your E flat key, you have a problem.
So I started my journey into the healthcare field as a patient that didn’t have any knowledge of what healthcare was like. I ended up seeing a couple people in my state and didn’t have any improvement.
I found a fairly well renowned orthopedic doc in Manhattan who supposedly specializes in working with musicians, so I went to go see him.
Healthcare – sometimes you gotta love it or it will drive you crazy. I travel all this way into New York City to see the surgeon and I’m scared. I just want to play, and I want answers.
I need to know what I can do so that I can continue playing and make everything better. So I walk in with my questions, and he takes me in and he sees that I have a list of questions, and he rolls his eyes.
As a younger person, and as a patient who’s scared to death, that’s not the best thing that you want to see. You’re like, “Oh, what’s wrong? I have a list of questions.” It wasn’t a mile long, it was 60 questions.
So he’s evaluating me. He brings in all these residents, and they’re poking on me. They’re like, “ooh,” “whoo,”, but never wants to tell me what’s going on, what they’re looking at.
And I, again, didn’t know how to advocate for myself and say, “What are you talking about? Why are you looking at that?” I was too scared and too paralyzed by my inability to play my instrument.
The bottomline is that he didn’t give me anything other than tell me to rest, and to go see this hand therapist. It didn’t explain anything to me. He didn’t say, “this is what you need to do: A, B, or C.” No diagnosis, just told me to rest.
As a musician, the worst thing anybody can ever say to you is to rest. That’s not what you want to hear. I had already been resting because I couldn’t play, so don’t tell me to rest; Iwant to be able to play.
So I go and see a hand therapist who supposedly specializes in musicians. She especially went for my little finger to try and help keep it in a position, but then that was it.
Nobody looked at my little finger. Nobody looked at me while I was playing. Nobody ever looked at my posture. Nobody ever talked to me about body mechanics or ergonomics.
Nobody ever talked to me about what other things I might be doing in my life that may be contributing factors to my symptoms.
Nobody ever talked to me about my mindset, or my stress level, or my physical activity level, and all those things could be contributing factors to what may be going on.
So that was really frustrating for me, because here I am, thinking I’m finding these people that are specialists in this area. They may work with musicians, but they didn’t get musicians.
They didn’t understand what it was like to be a musician. The lifestyle of a musician, the passion and dedication, and the fear that comes up when you even think about being injured or you are injured.
That was very disappointing for me as a patient, and now when I look back on it as a healthcare provider, I realized all the things that could have been done better.
They could have just spent the time to get to know me and understand what was going on and why it was so important for me.
So I ended up trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life after not having any other ideas at all.
My grandmother suggested that I go into physical therapy. I was like, “You’re crazy. I’m not touching feet. There’s no way I’m going to touch a foot. That’s disgusting.
How am I going to get through science classes and math classes? I hated them when I was in high school.”
But I applied, and I was like, “all right, I think it’s interesting.” I found OT, and OT is all about mind, body, spirit and function. So I thought that that was an alignment with what I wanted to do.
I knew I really wanted to help other musicians at some point in my career, so that they didn’t have to go through what I was what I had just been through.
So I apply to OT school and I got in and everything just fell into place. They would take orchestra for physics – I couldn’t quite figure out why – and they would take my music history for history class.
So I got away with a couple of those, but I had no academic classes at a conservatory. I essentially started all over again. Then I spent about 17 years working in Orthopedic Clinic.
Now I’m out on my own and I have my own clinic, and I’m really able to focus on musicians now and see people one on one, focus on all the things that nobody ever looked at with me when I was a musician with an injury.
My goal is to really look at musicians and every little aspect of their life that may be contributing factors of what’s going on with them and to prevent an injury.
You may not be having symptoms now, but there may be things that you’re doing while you’re playing or in other areas in your life that may be contributing factors and setting you up for potential injury at some point down the line.
Obviously, our goal as musicians is to have a long career and play our instruments for as long as we possibly can. So you have to be healthy. You have to take care of yourself.
That includes thinking like an athlete. Athletes don’t just go out on the field and play. They do a warm up and prep their muscles.
You, as a musician, need to prep your muscles before you sit down and play, and that doesn’t mean playing scales and arpeggios. That means doing a physical warm up before you actually do that.
Then you need to take care of your body after you’ve played. You’re taking your body into a contorted position. Depending on your instrument, you have to control your body to play, and there’s not one that’s ergonomically correct.
You have to control yourself and you’re playing under very intense circumstances. You’re doing very fine motor control.
You’re asking a lot of it, and you’re probably not taking care of it. I know I never did. Exercise was never really a big thing.
I think I went and exercised once with my roommate from college. I ran, and I couldn’t walk for four days afterwards, I think.
Again, you have to be taking care of yourself wholly and holistically. Prevention is a key. Longevity is a key, and really looking at the little things that you’re doing that may be contributing factors.
As I said to one of my patients today is you know what you’re doing today. As we tweak things in five years, you may need to tweak things a bit again.
The key is awareness and starting to be aware of what your body is doing in certain situations, and what is supposed to work and how your body supposed to work at your instrument.
For every person, it’s different. It’s not a one size fits all by any stretch of the imagination.
My goal for this group is to really talk about all these things, get people to start having conversations and to drop some tips and education here, so that nobody will have to go through kind of what I went through.
So I can hopefully be a resource for people, that if they do have issues, I can help them along their path, and, ultimately prevent things in the first place.
I’m going to start with some healthy habit tips for musicians. I’ve done some of them on my biz page, but I’m going to elaborate more on them in this group.
If you have any questions, please comment below, because I would love to make this group as interactive as possible. If you’re watching the replay, please comment, replay.